St. Modomnoc of Ossory

There are a multitude of sites dedicated to the lives of the Saints, and it was on one of these, CatholicSaints.Info, that I was introduced to Saint Modomnoc, a 6th Century Irish monk.

Also known as Domnoc, (along with several other spelling alternatives), Mdomnoc was a member of the Irish royal line of the O'Neils. He left Ireland for Wales, looking to study and grow in religious fervor.

Or maybe he just wanted to get away from his folks.

In any event, he studied under St. David of Wales at Menevia, and as a novice was assigned to keep the bees for the monastery.

Detail of center panel, St. Modomnoc of Ossory

Detail of center panel, St. Modomnoc of Ossory

Bees were kept for the making of honey which was both eaten and used in the production of mead, which was important since there was no Netflix yet. Various writings say that Modomnoc planted all sorts of flowers in the garden that he knew the bees would enjoy, and when he came to the garden in the evening, the bees would swarm around him but never sting him.

He spent a lot of time talking to the bees, and clearly had a very special relationship with them, which I find rather appealing. 

When it became time for Mdomnoc to return to Ireland, he went and told the bees goodbye. He got on a boat that was headed to Ireland, but when it got out to sea, the entire swarm of bees from the monastery swarmed out to the boat and settled on the mast.

Naturally, the ship's crew was more than a little freaked out by this, and Mdomnoc didn't want to be accused of absconding with the monastery's bees, so they turned around and went back to Wales, and he returned the bees to their hives, no doubt issuing a mild reprimand on the order of "that was sweet, but let's not do that again."

The following day, he sailed away again, and the bees followed along, so they returned to Wales a second time, leaving the crew somewhat miffed by all this back and forth. St. David no doubt realized that Mdomnoc and the bees had a special kinship, so he told him not to tell the bees he was leaving this time, and if they decided to follow him, then he should take them to Ireland with his blessing. A very generous gesture, if you ask me.

So, as you have probably guessed, Mdomnoc set sail for a third time, the bees followed, and he let them stay on the boat. When they got to Ireland, he established them in a new garden with all the same flowers they had in Wales, and they all lived happily ever after.

For this icon of St. Modomnoc, I chose to do a triptych panel, with Modomnoc in the center, and panels of flowers on both sides. The top of the middle section is actually a form taken from a Russian icon, but because it reminded me of a skep hive, I decided to use it here. The triptych alludes to the way the bees followed Mdomnoc to the boat three times. The writing around the panels is taken from old ham radio log books from the 1950's, and is a reminder of the special communication between Mdomnoc and the bees.

St. Modomnoc of Ossory, finished triptych

St. Modomnoc of Ossory, finished triptych

I decided to depict Mdomnoc as a modern person, and chose my friend James as the model. James has a very serene way about him. He is raising his right hand in the traditional blessing posture of a saint, and I placed an extraordinarily oversized bee on his hand.

A lot of people are afraid of bees, and a bee this size no doubt creates a lot of tension. However, I am uplifted by Modomnoc's special relationship with something scary, like bees, and think there is a lot to ponder there.


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